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Lisa Nicolello

Solitary Search . .

Have you ever had the feeling that the earth just fell out from beneath you and you were falling into the abyss? That's the feeling a gambler has, when he loses everything on his last bet. That's the feeling we had, when our male Mastiff "Levi" came back with an OFA evaluation of moderate hip dysplasia. Unfortunately his hip status was as unworthy a bet as the one the gambler made. That's not the way it should be! To improve our chances and the risk of our bet (genetic testing) in order to get a sound, healthy mastiff, we started on our solitary search.

Oh sure, we knew about hip dysplasia and "clear eyes," but that was the extent of our knowledge on testing, even though Julie was a veterinary technician for a good vet hospital in Southern California. Even there, that was all the breeders tested for. No, finding "breeders" was no more difficult than finding taxi drivers. But when the questions arose about what to test for, they quickly became unfriendly and unhelpful. Their only concern was selling us a dog.

So it soon became very clear that no one was willing to help us learn about genetic testing, not even AKC. For, when we requested information from AKC, all that was sent was on hips and eyes, and a list of "reputable breeders" in our area that tested for these things. From there we thought maybe we could get more information from these breeders, so the phone calls were made and questions asked. Once again overall we received the cold shoulder. However, we did encounter two kennels, both of which assured us of complete genetic testing. One was over two days drive and the other a brief two hour drive. So, we requested information to be sent by the breeder 1,000 miles away and off to the other we went for a visit.

Now remember, these dogs were supposedly genetically tested and clear of all problems, not to mention of good temperament.

What we found was neither tested clear nor of good temperament. Upon our arrival at this kennel we were greeted by four fawn male mastiffs, that were apricot in appearance due to extreme filth. One appeared to have a growth on the side of his face that, on closer inspection, turned out to be an abscess about the size of an egg.

We later found that the abscess was caused by a female that was being bred by this male. However, this dog was not the only one to receive bites from this bitch. The breeder also had bite marks up and down his right arm. His excuse for the whole incident was, "she gets mean when she is in season." However he did mention that this same female (a month earlier) had "gotten out" and attacked a Doberman Pincher, putting it in the hospital. Along with this, there was evidence of tape worms, ear mites, fleas, and poor nutrition.

When we asked to see OFA and CERF documentation we were assured that they were certified, but they didn't want to get the certificates -- and this was our reputable breeder!

In our dismay, we hoped the other breeder we had contacted would send us information. But, months later, even our phone calls were not returned. Because of our discouragement and the Gulf War, our search was postponed.

Upon discharge and subsequent move home to Colorado, we once again began our search. This time taking a slightly different approach. Since we were not having any success with clubs or breeders helping us, we began gathering information and books having anything to do with genetics or Mastiffs. Neither were easy to find or understand. Nevertheless, when we felt we had learned all of the appropriate questions to ask, we developed a cover letter and sent copies to twenty-five different kennels throughout the U.S. In this letter we asked what they tested for, problems they had, and what actions they were taking to prevent them in the future.

We knew these were tough questions for many breeders to answer. We also knew that if they didn't test, they would not have what we were looking for. It's sad to say, but out of those twenty-five letters we only received three answers. Even this was a victory because we had finally found people who believed as we did.

This finally resulted in the finding of our beautiful, sound female "Furies." We are happy to say she has the prospect of passing her genetic testing (she has passed her preliminary testing). The sad part of all this is that it took us over three years to accomplish. We now have been searching for six years.

We all have an obligation as breeders to educate the public. Whenever we are telling someone about our breed, who may be interested in purchasing a puppy, we let them know what questions are appropriate to ask breeders, including genetic testing, temperament, type, soundness, etc. This means taking time to talk to all the people you meet who ask about Mastiffs. We've even gone so far as to tell people to look for these things not only in the Mastiff breed, but in any breed they are interested in. At dog shows when you are in a hurry or distracted (even if it means telling them to come back in five minutes) take time to meet them later and answer any questions they may have.

Education is the key to whether they buy from the breeder who cares and tests, or the breeder who only wants their money and may care nothing for what they are doing to the breed. It's our choice and our reputations on the line. Hopefully, with our help, it won't take the next person six years to find a Mastiff who will live a longer, happier life.

Greg & Julie Hibler
Leviathans Lair Mastiffs
Levi, Nemi, Fury

P. S. We are happy to say that at the time of this writing, we have helped four people find quality puppies from tested parents. It takes a lot of time helping them call, going over information they have received, even helping them choose from video tapes what looks like the best pup for them. But, it is worth every minute when you see the look on their faces after seeing that pup for the first time. We keep in touch with all of these people and get together for conformation classes. It sure is nice to see happy, well cared for puppies who have a better chance of living trouble-free lives. Please take the time, it's worth every minute. And, who knows, maybe those breeders they bought from may send people your way when you have puppies looking for quality homes, who care as much as you do.

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